FCC chairman 'in favor' of net neutrality, despite telcos crying foul

The US federal regulator, set to vote on the matter later this month, sent its strongest message to date: net neutrality is coming, so get used to it.

(Image: FCC via CNET)

The man in charge of the federal agency overseeing Internet and phone companies said he's in favor of a controversial reclassification that's spurred on more than a year of fierce debate and lobbying.

In an opinion-editorial for Wired, Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler said it's "time to settle" the net neutrality question, confirming for the first time that he will float net neutrality rules that will ensure every bit and byte of network traffic is treated equally.

"This week, I will circulate... proposed new rules to preserve the internet as an open platform for innovation and free expression," he wrote.

But this puts the rules at odds with how Internet providers and telecom companies believe network traffic should be treated.

The FCC has the power to turn broadband Internet into a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which would categorize broadband services as a basic public necessity, like water and electricity. But there has been intense debate and lobbying from all sides in an effort to get their various ways.

President Obama stepped in last year in favor of enforcing net neutrality. In making broadband services a utility, the president hopes to make the Internet fairer for Americans, and ensure it wouldn't fall into a "two-tiered" system, where some users would get faster speeds and better service than others, with no site blocking or bandwidth throttling.

Critics, including the Internet providers themselves, say that high-bandwidth users, like Netflix and other streaming services, should have to pay for the chunk of network they use.

On Monday, AT&T said in a blog posting the move to reclassify broadband as a utility was "driven by political considerations." It added to similar sentiments by Verizon just a week prior, saying that such a move would "absolutely affect us and the industry on long-term investment in our networks."

But Wheeler poured cold water on the argument. He said over the past 21 years, the wireless industry has "invested almost $300 billion under similar rules, proving that modernized Title II regulation can encourage investment and competition."

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the new rules later this month.